From The Editor

By Carol Berkin

In the decades immediately following the War of 1812, the face of America changed. Population grew and young Americans far outnumbered their parents. For many the West beckoned, and settlers poured into the region west of the original thirteen colonies until they reached the mighty Mississippi River. Pride, optimism and a keen nationalism replaced the founding generation’s anxiety about the survival of thirteen separate and often quarreling states. An American school of art was flourishing; an American dictionary assured citizens that the English they spoke was not the English of their former masters; roads and canals linked the backcountry and the coastal towns and cities; and above all, politics had become the domain of the common man, as universal while male suffrage appeared to triumph over older restrictive rules of citizenship. 

To many, the future looked bright. At the same time, a new anxiety crept into the American psyche: slave states and free states eyed each other warily, political parties fostered professional politicians rather than disinterested leadership, and the pursuit of profit and material goods appeared to some citizens as a sign of moral decay and the decline of the republic. 

This was the world of Andrew Jackson. In his lifetime the abolitionist and nascent women's rights movements began to demand a place in the body politic. Old institutions, perceived as elitist by some, would crumble – the most famous of them, the Bank of the United States, destroyed by the president himself—causing economic instability. In the aftermath, Americans would discover that the direction of social mobility could be downward as easily as upward. For many historians, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans is the symbol of his age: contradictory and controversial, beloved and despised, democrat and, to Native Americans, oppressor.

In this issue of History Now, five leading historians examine the myth and reality of the man and his era. As an overview, Dan Feller provides the first essay, "Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy." Here he traces the changing evaluation of the man and his presidency as historians reinterpret the era. In "The Indian Removal Act," Elliott West introduces us to Native American cultures and to the government policies and expansionist impulses that threatened them. He shows us the tragic consequences of white society’s land hunger and the government’s willingness to satisfy this demand. In "Andrew Jackson and the Constitution," Matthew Warshauer reexamines the contradictory character and reputation of our seventh president through a close analysis of Jackson’s interpretation and application of the Constitution. Warshauer demonstrates Jackson’s willingness to overstep or ignore the Constitution when he felt the survival of the country required it. Catherine Allgor examines the larger social world of the nation’s capital in "Female Trouble: Andrew Jackson vs. the Ladies of Washington," an essay that reveals the influence of women despite their exclusion from formal political power. The social networks created by the wives and daughters of congressmen and senators allowed them to play key roles in dispensing patronage, arranging political deals, and shaping policies. As Allgor shows us, Jackson discovered the power of these elite women in what came to be known as the "Peggy Eaton Affair." In Joanne Freeman’s essay, "The Culture of Congress in the Age of Jackson," we are given a view of America’s political leadership that may come as a surprise. Rather than dignified debate and erudite discussion, Freeman recounts a rough and tumble world of insult-hurling, scuffles, brawls, and the brandishing of weapons on the House and Senate floors. This atmosphere of violence and volatility stemmed from more than a code of personal honor; it reflected the highly charged and divisive issues that faced the nation in the age of Jackson.

Our interactive feature in this issue, entitled "Andrew Jackson Learns of the Chehaw Affair," provides teachers with documents that describe the Georgia militia’s attack on a Chehaw village in 1818, as reported by Brigadier General Thomas Glascock to then General Andrew Jackson. As always, lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school as well as for AP History classes are provided with links to sources that can be used in the classroom. In addition, our archivist Mary-Jo Kline provides an annotated guide to a wealth of additional materials for your use.

As the end of the year approaches, we at History Now wish you the happiest of holidays and the brightest of new years.

Carol Berkin                                                           
Editor, History Now                                               

Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence.